Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Reviews

‘Contagion’ Doesn’t Want to Reach Out and Touch You

Kathleen Murphy’s review of Contagion was written for Movies/MSN at the time of the film’s original release.

Steven Soderbergh’s super-creepy Contagion does for pandemic what the Oscar-winning director did for drug Traffic back in 2000. Mimicking the insidious spread of coke-related ills, he tracks a lethal little virus—bat-borne, then transmitted to a piglet—as it metastasizes out of a friendly handshake to world-killer. A panic-worthy journey for sure, but no need to buckle up for fast-cutting, tension-building, apocalyptic action­­—or anything else that might significantly raise your blood pressure. Less hysterical than hushed, more numbing than terrifying, Contagion‘s closer to documentary—an imagined record of how global citizenry might realistically react to monumental crisis.

Says Soderbergh: “We were looking for something that was unsettling because of the banality of the transmission. In a weird way, the less you trump it up, the more unsettling it becomes.”

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Posted in: Film Reviews

Review: Out of Sight

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, August 7, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

After years of mishandling by Hollywood, crime novelist Elmore Leonard has been on a roll. Get Shorty, Barry Sonnenfeld’s larky look behind the scenes of Tinseltown itself, reaffirmed the second coming of John Travolta and also, by the novelist’s own testimony, made Leonard aware that his books are funny. (He writes them straight, which is how his characters live them.) Quentin Tarantino turned Rum Punch into Jackie Brown and enhanced both Tarantino and Leonard in the process. Now comes Out of Sight—for sheer snap, verve, and professionalism, arguably the best of the bunch.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Cut to the Chaste – ‘sex, lies, and videotape’

[Originally published in 7 Days on August 9, 1989]

sex, lies and videotape was released this week in a Criterion special edition on Blu-ray and DVD. Parallax View republishes this archival piece to mark the occasion.

Steven Soderbergh wrote the screenplay for sex, lies, and videotape during an eight-day drive from Baton Rouge to Los Angeles, and the movie he made from it retains the hurtling urgency of its genesis. This is true despite the fact that it’s not a fast-moving film by any means. Its principal mode of action is conversation—people talking about sex, candor, responsibility, fidelity, contentment—and there’s no attempt to jazz things up with camera stunting. A little more limpidness in the cinematography, a little more attention to the piquant charms of place, and we might take it for an hommage to Eric Rohmer. Yet sex, lies, and videotape is an American original, beating a supple, nervy tattoo on the funny bone of contemporary values.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Essays

Sex, lies and, Soderbergh

[Originally published on IndieWire on January 15, 2014]

sex, lies, and videotape was released this week in a Criterion special edition on Blu-ray and DVD. Parallax View republishes this archival piece to mark the occasion.

“When I was coming up, making an independent film and trying to reach an audience was like, trying to hit a thrown baseball. This is like trying to hit a thrown baseball but with another thrown baseball.” – Steven Soderbergh at the San Francisco International Film Festival, 2013

Did the Sundance Film Festival make sex, lies, and videotape or did sex, lies, and videotape put Sundance on the festival map? The debut feature by Steven Soderbergh, modestly budgeted at $1.2 million and starring a cast of recognizable but hardly famous actors on the rise, lost the Grand Jury Prize to Nancy Savoca’s True Love but took home the Audience Award and, more importantly, a deal with Miramax, who broke the film out of the limited arthouse circuit and put it into suburban theaters. The confluence of Sundance and “sex” was a seismic shift in American independent film culture: the “big bang of the modern indie film movement,” in the words of industry historian Peter Biskind.

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Posted in: by Robert Horton, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Logan Lucky

The Logan brothers list their family’s dismal relationship to luck, ticking through some of the calamities that have befallen the clan. One piece of evidence is “Uncle Stickley’s electrocution,” a colorful citation. Who was this Uncle Stickley? How did he get electrocuted? Why was he named Stickley? These questions remain unanswered and Uncle Stickley is never referred to again. Part of the pleasure of Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky is its flair for throwaway lines and little character beats. This movie does not aspire to greatness or significance; being extremely clever and thoroughly competent is the goal here.

The film borrows the shape of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven series in its devotion to the old formula of the heist picture. But the setting is the opposite: Instead of sophisticated thieves plotting to knock over a Las Vegas casino, the conspirators here are a bumbling collection of blue-collar West Virginians whose dubious plan is to rob Charlotte Motor Raceway during a NASCAR event.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Directors, news, Orson Welles, Silent Cinema, streaming, Television

Streamers: See Orson Welles’ ‘Too Much Johnson’ and Amazon’s Third Pilot Season for Free

Too Much Johnson, the Orson Welles film (or rather film project) that was long thought lost (the last print was reportedly destroyed in a fire in Welles’ Spanish home in 1970), was found a few years ago and restored. It’s not a feature or even a short, per se, more of an experiment shot to accompany a production of the theater farce “Too Much Johnson,” but at least the first section plays just fine on its own as a tribute to silent slapstick comedy with Joseph Cotten doing Harold Lloyd antics and Buster Keaton chases as a serial philanderer pursued by a jealous husband. The film was unfinished but mostly complete and you can watch both the workprint and a “reimagined” version with the outtakes removed at the National Film Preservation Foundation website. An HD version of both are available through the subscription streaming service Fandor.

I wrote an essay on the film for Keyframe: “This would all be interesting but academic if it wasn’t also entertaining and Too Much Johnson is a hoot. The prologue was designed to open the play, introduce the characters and situations, and set the racing pace for the stage scenes with a wild slapstick chase through the streets of New York to the ship that carries the story to Cuba. It plays just fine on its own (with an assist from intertitles added by NFPF), like an open-ended Mack Sennett farce that races through German Expressionism and Russian Formalism on the way to the docks. The subsequent sequences, both much shorter and apparently incomplete, are not as self-contained or coherent but they do feature some eye-opening moments for Welles fans.”

‘Too Much Johnson’

The third wave of Amazon Prime Instant Video Pilot Season shows will be available to sample on Thursday, August 28. As in previous waves, Amazon has made the pilot episodes of five new shows available to all Amazon customers (you don’t have to be a Prime member to watch them), and they will decide which shows move forward to full series based on audience feedback.

This time through, they have enlisted some interesting directors to create for the small screen. Whit Stillman heads to Paris for The Cosmopolitans, a continental romantic comedy, David Gordon Green (director of Pineapple Express and HBO’s Eastbound and Down) stays home in New Jersey for Red Oaks, a coming-of-age comedy set in 1985 (it’s produced by Steven Soderbergh), and Jay Chandrasekhar offers the sitcom Really, about a tight-knit group of married couples in Chicago. Each of these are in the half-hour format.

There are also two hour-long shows: Marc Forster (World War Z) takes the helm on Hand of God, starring Ron Perlman as a judge of dubious morals who goes vigilante after receiving messages from God, and writer / producer Shaun Cassidy delivers Hysteria, with Mena Suvari as a neurologist faced with virtual virus spread through social media.

More streaming options at Cinephiled

Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Blu-ray: ‘King of the Hill’

King of the Hill (1993) is the third feature from Steven Soderbergh, who jumped to the head of the American independent scene when sex, lies and videotape took the Audience Award at Sundance 1989 and went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes before getting a wide release in suburban multiplexes. His second film, Kafka (1991), wasn’t a success but it revealed a serious filmmaker who wanted to explore different subjects and genres. King of the Hill continued that tradition in that is was yet again a complete change of style and subject matter for the director: an adaptation of the memoir by A.E. Hotchner about life as an adolescent during the Depression. It was also his first studio production, made for the fledgling Gramercy Pictures, and it gave him the biggest budget of his career. He was able to craft a rich recreation of early thirties St. Louis as seen through the eyes of a hopeful boy in an increasingly desperate situation.

Jesse Bradford is Aaron, a smart, creative, generous high school kid who spins stories to hide the fact that his family is broke and living out of a hotel, where they are behind in the rent. To stay in his high school, a well-maintained school filled with affluent kids (Aaron is “a charity case,” as one of his affluent classmates describes him), he and his kid brother Sullivan (Cameron Boyd) have to keep up the fiction that they reside in a nearby apartment house. His dad (Jeroen Krabbé) is a salesman hawking “wickless candles” that no one is buying while he waits for one of his many applications to pay off with a better job. Aaron picks up odd jobs as he can with the help of Lester (Adrian Brody in his first major role), an older kid who looks over Aaron like a big brother. Lester knows the angles and hustles his way to survival and his mentorship gives Aaron the skills and strength to survive when he’s force to take care of himself.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Essays

How Steven Soderbergh’s ‘sex, lies and videotape’ Still Influences Sundance After 25 Years

“When I was coming up, making an independent film and trying to reach an audience was like, trying to hit a thrown baseball. This is like trying to hit a thrown baseball but with another thrown baseball.” – Steven Soderbergh at the San Francisco International Film Festival, 2013

‘sex, lies and videotape’

Did the Sundance Film Festival make sex, lies and videotape or did sex, lies and videotape put Sundance on the festival map? The debut feature by Steven Soderbergh, modestly budgeted at $1.2 million and starring a cast of recognizable but hardly famous actors on the rise, lost the Grand Jury Prize to Nancy Savoca’s True Love (even as it eventually won the Palme d’Or at Cannes) but took home the Audience Award. More importantly, it landed a deal with Miramax, who broke the film out of the limited arthouse circuit and put it into suburban theaters. The confluence of Sundance and sex was a seismic shift in American independent film culture: the “big bang of the modern indie film movement,” in the words of industry historian Peter Biskind.

Soderbergh’s feature debut was a startling adult film about, yes, sex and lies, but also love, commitment, aggression, retreat, and the terror of true intimacy. The only nakedness on display is emotional, and Soderbergh, with the earnest seriousness of a passionate young filmmaker, confronts uncomfortable issues with frank talk and uncomfortable directness.

Continue reading at Indiewire

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Directors, Essays

Soderbergh’s Eleven: The Best of Steven Soderbergh

Remember when Steven Soderbergh announced imminent retirement a few years ago? Well, he’s apparently holding himself to his promise. Warner Bros. is promoting “Side Effects” as Soderbergh’s final film (apparently the upcoming “Behind the Candelabra” doesn’t count because it’s made for HBO).

Hard to believe, given the way he’s been turning out an average of two features a year, a terrific pace in a filmmaking culture where many directors spend years getting projects off the ground. You’d think that would take a toll on quality, but it’s been just the opposite: His track record has been solid as he hopscotches across genres and subjects. But, then, that’s been the very definition of his career all along.

Not just prolific (25 features in as many years as well as a couple of cable series), Soderbergh has been adventurous and ambitious. Since his debut feature, “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” helped turn the American Indie imprint into a cultural force, he’s tackled everything from big-budget capers (“Ocean’s Eleven” and sequels) to experimental exercises (“Schizopolis” and “Bubble”) and plenty in between.

He’s shot most of his own films since “Traffic” (under the name Peter Andrews) and edited almost as many (under the name Mary Ann Bernard), perfecting a particular visual aesthetic and rhythm that underlies his films. And he has earned the loyalty of a group of collaborators who return again and again for his projects, including George Clooney (with whom he formed the production company Section Eight), Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Channing Tatum and many others.

I fully expect Soderbergh to return to filmmaking at some not-so-distant point in the future — how could someone who has shown such a passion for making movies give it all up? — but until then, here’s a survey of Soderbergh’s best to tide you over.

Andie Macdowell in ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’

“Sex, Lies and Videotape” (1989)

Did the Sundance Film Festival make “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” or did “Sex, Lies and Videotape” save the floundering Sundance? Chicken-and-egg question aside, the confluence of the two was a seismic shift in American independent film culture: the “big bang of the modern indie film movement,” according to industry historian Peter Biskind. Steven Soderbergh’s feature debut was a startling adult film about, yes, sex and lies, but also love, commitment, aggression, retreat and the terror of true intimacy, all tackled with the earnest seriousness of a passionate young filmmaker. This was still Soderbergh in raw form, but his honesty, and his ability to tap the cultural zeitgeist, created the first hit to come out of Sundance competition, and it redefined the indie aesthetic. Steven Soderbergh was the new golden boy of the independent scene …

Continue reading at MSN Movies

Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Blu-ray/DVD: ‘Magic Mike’

Magic Mike (Warner) is one of the success stories of 2012. While megabudget spectacles and potential tentpole films collapsed under the weight of heavy productions over flimsy scripts, Steven Soderbergh took a story inspired by actor Channing Tatum’s early experiences as a male stripper and a budget that wouldn’t pay for the reshoots on “Battleship” and delivered a film that took in over $110 million, over 15 times its budget.

Tatum’s Magic Mike is a hard-working guy in Tampa, Florida, constantly on the hustle, working under-the-table construction by day, headlining a male strip club on weekends, and working the angles in between, and Alex Pettyfer is his protégé, you might say. This is a world of tawdry glamour, street hustle, and working class desperation, and Soderbergh, star/co-producer Tatum, and screenwriter Reid Carolin do a great job of showing us how it works as a business and how it seduces as a lifestyle.

There is, of course, a cast of good looking men stripping down to g-strings and grinding their oiled hardbodies for a crowd of screaming women (among them Matt Bomer of “White Collar,” Joe Manganiello of “True Blood,” and Adam Rodriguez of “CSI: Miami”). It’s no secret that the film pulled in a cross-over audience of both women and gay men by offering the same spectacle that the movies constantly deliver to straight men. But “Magic Mike” is no exploitation film, nor an exposé of the dangers of this culture, nor a celebration of it. It’s a character drama with some superb characters and a terrific, grown-up romance with a young woman (Cody Horn) who is physically attracted to Mike but wary of his easy lifestyle and constantly-delayed dreams.

Continue reading at Videodrone